I have these internal moments of realizing my own prejudice that make me uncomfortable but are very hard to surmount. A recent moment had to do with young girls/women whose ambition is to be a stay-at-home wife/mother. I don’t think I feel as much weirdness around adult women who are already IN the role of stay-at-home parent and homemaker (maybe because many often worked before motherhood), but for some reason that ambition in a younger female makes me squirm inside.
Why is this?
One reason may be that I myself am not a stay-at-home parent, and I never saw that role as my high goal. Also, most women I am friends with are also working/professionals. But my own MOTHER was a stay-at-home parent, and she rocked it hard. She cooked, cleaned, crafted, sewed, made sure we made it to our checkups and dental appointments and eye exams. She only worked outside the home when my sister and I were beyond elementary school, doing independent wallpapering and painting so that she had the flexibility to start after we left for school in the morning and could get back home around the same time as we did. Another good friend of mine is not a parent (avowed child-free) and has been more or less a housewife for most of the time I have known her, and somehow that doesn’t creep me out – this may be because she HAS held jobs, and has independently sold her crafts online, and became more "domestic" when she was in her mid-20s.
But teenage girls saying “I want to get married, keep house, and have kids” creeps me out to no end. Is it because they’re so young that they might end up regretting the choice to not learn professional skills later, when they perhaps feel constrained in a stay-at-home role without the tools to explore outside employment? Is it because it plays into a patriarchal model that seems to give less power to a wife, and puts her in a vulnerable position economically (even setting aside divorce, what if the husband is disabled or dies?)? Is it because it goes with the flow of gender determinism in which it is assumed that women’s role is that of homemaker and child-nurturer, and therefore NOT a role of professional and provider? It may well be all of those things.
I feel as if a teenage boy professed that he wanted to be a stay-at-home parent, I would applaud him rather than feel anxious for him (though I might wonder if he fully understood the demands of the role, because I also have the prejudice that many young people, males especially, don’t know/can’t deal with all the gory details of childrearing and housekeeping). But I also feel that society at large assumes a young man will take on a profession outside the home, and that he will be prepared for that; even if he becomes a stay-at-home spouse/parent he at least will have an idea of how the professional world works should he desire or require entrance into that world.
When someone suggests that young women should be offered an education in homemaking and childrearing, I also balk – primarily because of the specific mention of young women rather than young people as a whole. Young men should absolutely be given a course in how to keep house and care for children – not only is it plausible that they may opt for a homemaking role, but there are important life skills to be learned in housekeeping for all. Shopping for healthy food and reading nutrition labels, cooking food to safe temperatures, doing laundry, maintaining appliances, cleaning a home, mending clothes, keeping a budget, balancing a checkbook, basic childcare… I’m sure there are more. These could simply be categorized under “Life Skills” and there’s no need to specify a particular gender that needs it.
Everyone needs to how not to suck at life. Not just men, not just women, everyone. If both genders didn’t learn these overlapping skills we’d all be struggling to learn late in the game and/or stuck in an awkward symbiosis with the opposite sex.
I wonder if I can get around this prejudice a bit if I think about the individual skills of homemaking and childrearing (cooking, cleaning, maintenance, child care, etc) as a career in itself. After all, childcare professionals are professionals – so are cooks, housekeepers, handymen/women. If someone’s ambition is to keep house and raise kids, well, they’d better be prepared to do it as though a paycheck depended on it – ie., to the best of their ability. They should ROCK that shit. A good homemaker isn’t lounging on a couch eating bonbon; they’re getting shit done so the family can have a non-filthy home to live in and good food to eat.
Homemaking is a big job, and I should respect those who aspire to it even if those individuals aren’t eligible to vote yet.